Revelation is a weird book.
Filled with plagues, dragons, angels, beasts, and a lot of numbers, it is a difficult book to understand.
But Revelation is also necessary. In the final chapter, we find this reminder: “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7) This means that Revelation is not a book that can be ignored or can be treated as unimportant until Christ returns. We need its message to the Church, and we must obey it.
Though there is much we could discuss, I want to focus specifically on the mark of the beast and what it might be.
Here is how the Bible describes it in Revelation 13:11-18:
Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
Probably the most common interpretation of this passage asserts that this beast (who is later called the False Prophet) is a literal person who will enforce worship of the first beast (called the Beast later and who many believe to be the Antichrist). The False Prophet will, therefore, institute a worldwide religion around the Antichrist, and those who refuse to worship by receiving its mark will be slain.
Proponents of this view typically believe that the mark of the beast will also be a literal branding of some sort. The rise of microchip technology has led many to wonder if the mark will be an implanted chip that is used in much the same way as credit cards.
While such an interpretation may very well come to pass, I would like to make a brief argument for another view.
Instead of viewing Revelation as wholly futuristic, it seems best to view it through the lens of symbolism. After all, Revelation is explicitly a book of prophecy, and God repeatedly called the Old Testament prophets to use symbolism in their prophecies.
In a symbolic view, many interpret the False Prophet to be a representation of all false prophets, who ultimately turn the hearts’ of people away from Christ and toward antichrists. Revelation’s visions of the Antichrist and False Prophet are viewed, therefore, as warnings of the plethora of antichrists and false prophets who will deceive people throughout history.
1 John 4:1-3 seems to complement this view (especially since it is probably the same John who authored Revelation):
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
The spirit of the antichrist was already in the world in John’s day, and false prophets were already directing worship to it. The spirit of the antichrist is anything that opposes Jesus. We either worship Christ, or we worship the antichrist. We worship God, or we worship ourselves. The spirit of the antichrist is worldliness and lawlessness (aka sin). When we sin, we place ourselves against Christ.
But if the False Prophet is symbolic, then what is the mark of the beast?
Notice that the mark of the beast is placed upon the right hand or forehead. This is probably best understood as a reference to the Shema in Deuteronomy. Jews have traditionally prayed the Shema twice a day because they view it as a sort of summary statement for their theology.
But you should read it for yourself:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
In the Shema, God was calling Israel to know Him through His Scriptures. He begins with a statement of who He is, and then commands them to love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength (which Jesus said was the greatest commandment, by the way).
But He didn’t stop there.
He then told them to take His Words with them.
Teach them to your children.
Talk about them in your house, while you travel, when you go to sleep, and when you wake up.
He told them to bind His commands on their hand and place them on their forehead between their eyes.
Write them on every doorpost of every house and gate.
What’s the point?
God wanted His people to be saturated in His Word. Even in the Old Testament, God’s people were to be known by their love for God’s Scriptures because God revealed Himself in them. We should be so steeped in God’s Word that it might as well be marked or branded on our hands and forehead.
So, if the mark of Christ’s followers is their love for one another and the Scriptures, couldn’t the mark of the beast be a sign of us devoting ourselves to anything other than God through His Word?
As we saw John say already, the antichrist is any spirit that does not proclaim Jesus as sent from God, but he continues in his letter to tie the antichrist to worldly thinking:
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:4-6)
God’s people are commanded to speak the Scriptures to one another, but those who follow after the antichrist “speak from the world, and the world listens to them.”
Could it be, therefore, that the mark of the beast is saturating our lives with the things of this world, instead of with God, His Scriptures, and His people?
This interpretation resonates with me because while many Christians watch vigilantly for the latest news of microchips, few saturate themselves in God’s Word, teaching others to obey all that Christ commanded us.
Few watchfully persevere in prayer, praying for boldness to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into marvelous light.
Few fill their lives with the community of their brothers and sisters in Christ, showing the world our love for Christ through our love for His people.
Martyrdom can quickly become a fantasy.
It is easy to look forward to a day when we are called to stand for Christ in the face of martyrdom, but the reality is that our Lord already called us to die to self. Each day is an act of martyrdom as we take up the cross of Christ so that He might live and reign in us. We must not romanticize dying for Jesus if we are not willing to live with Him everyday, saturated in His Word.
Many read the Bible, but few are saturated in it. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 describes Scripture saturation well.
As people who have been saved by God, do we long to hear from God in His Word?
Do we excitedly speak about it to each other while at home or traveling?
Is God’s Word such a component of our lives that we might as well have it tattooed on our forehead or hand?
Or are we marked by the wisdom of this world, which James calls unspiritual and demonic?
I would argue that if the beast’s mark is a lack of God’s Word, it is far more insidious and deadly than any microchip.